Yesterday evening I picked this up after it had been waiting on my shelf for a few years, and five minutes ago I closed it with a deep sigh of satisfaction. The storytelling is so good, taking you in unexpected directions, with so much life and humour and darkness wrapped up under that silly-sounding title, it’s was like getting a big hug. I feel like I’ve climbed out of a piping hot bath, relaxed and wistful.
The title is a touch of wonderfully Teutonic directness: the author sets out to discover the origin of currywurst, the famous streetfood he recalls eating as a child. This takes him to the woman who ran a food stall for thirty years, Lena Bruckner, now in her eighties, frail and blind. Did you invent curried sausage?
Yes, yes she did. But the how of it lies in her story of the last month of WWII in Hamburg.
This is a book about the war, then, from the perspective of a woman trying to survive in her ruined city. It’s also the story of the people around her, including Lammers, the die-hard Nazi building warden, who has long suspected her of a ‘defeatist attitude’. And the chef, Holzinger, who carefully upset the stomachs of high-ranking German officials and teaches Lena her skills with spices. And then there is Bremer, a naval officer she meets at a cinema. It is their story, really, a story which is a secret that needs to be unraveled to get to the accidental creation of curried sausage.
The descriptions of the blackmarket economy that kept people alive after the war is particularly engaging. Timm also approaches the toughest revelation, of the death camps to the German people, in a careful but clear-eyed way.
This is a book with a touch of everything – food, family, sex, flavour, distance, and desperation. A small revelation, like the first touch of curry powder on your tongue.